What Would It Be Like to Announce a Baseball Game Without Fans? Veteran PBP Man Weighs in…

Tim Kelly
April 08, 2020 - 9:36 am

What would it be like to call an entire season's worth of baseball games without fans in the crowd? Increasingly, it appears like we may find out in 2020.

As MLB works through different proposals for how to make sure there is a 2020 season, one thing appears to be clear - there won't be fans in the crowd at least at the outset of the season. Tuesday, RADIO.COM MLB Insider Jon Heyman says baseball is "resigned" to having no fans in attendance at least to begin the season.

Rickie Ricardo, the Spanish radio voice of the New York Yankees, says that while announcing a game without fans will create an entirely different dynamic than normal, it's one he's prepared to meet if that's what allows baseball to return in 2020.

"You [have to] trust your preparation, a lot of stats, a lot of scoreboard watching and a a lot of conversation with the partner," Ricardo said of the challenges of announcing a game with no fans in attendance. "As long as you don't have dead air where people may get confused [you'll be alright].

"Preparation wise, there would have to be a lot more fodder, a lot more information and a lot more subject matter to discuss to keep the audience entertained and to keep them tuned in."

After 9/11, baseball - and specifically, baseball in New York - was one of the things that helped America get back into a sense of normalcy. Hall of Famer Mike Piazza launched a game-winning home run at Shea Stadium in the Mets' first game back after the attacks. The Yankees would reach the World Series for the fourth consecutive season in 2001, and though they would lose in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks, there were quite a few typical Yankee detractors that were pulling for the Bronx Bombers that year.

Baseball, according to Ricardo, has always served as a distraction from real life events and a way to help move society forward after trying times. This situation likely won't be any different in that regard.

What will be different is how quickly fans are allowed to fill stadiums where the idea of keeping everyone six feet apart from each other would be laughable. Ricardo wondered even if fans were allowed to attend games at some point in 2020, if the lasting effects of COVID-19 would scare many away from wanting to do so.

Ricardo has an interesting potential solution to that, one that could work at least on the radio - inject fake crowd noise.

"I wouldn't even be against having artificial sound of a crowd - on the radio, for example - just to give America a taste of what it's used to. Everybody understands that God willing we'll never be going through this situation again, this is something that is unprecedented...hopefully will never happen again in our lifetime or any lifetime...and that we're going to have to understand that everything we do as we go back to "normalcy" is gonna have a different twist to it. So baseball on the radio, it might be the game being played, for example, at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, it could be the broadcasters in a separate studio, and you could have artificial sound just to get the flavor of the game on the radio just as a baby step to getting us back to normality."

As an announcer in 2020, you likely will have to prepare for a situation where you have to fill as much air as possible. There's an art that great radio announcers master of knowing when to stop talking and just let you listen to the sounds of summer - fans cheering, vendors yelling etc. If there aren't fans in the crowd, though, the art of letting the game breathe will become much less useful in 2020.

On April 29, 2015, the Orioles had to play one home game without fans in the crowd because of civil unrest in Baltimore. For a day - even though the real life events that led to it were extremely serious - there may have been a novelty to it. One would think that novelty will wear off relatively quickly if there's an entire baseball season without fans. The alternative, though, may be no baseball season altogether. So if it takes Ricardo calling games from a studio, filling more air time and relying on the sounds of the actual game itself, he's ready to play a small part in helping the world move forward.

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